A weekly feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at the crime drama “White Boy Rick,” the Nicolas Cage rage-a-thon “Mandy” and the thriller “A Simple Favor.”
The name Paul Feig is closely associated with comedy but with “A Simple Favor” he takes a step away from the laughs to present a story of intrigue and suspense that begins with a friend asking for a little help.
The labyrinthine plot begins with Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), the plucky single mom of a young son. She’s a keener, a food vlogger who is always the first to volunteer for everything at her son’s school. When she meets Emily (Blake Lively), the blunt talking mother of her son’s schoolmate, she is smitten. Stephanie is lonely, a widower who pours herself into work and her son’s life. With Emily she discovers the pleasures of pouring a martini in the afternoon as a “reset” for the day. The pair bond almost immediately despite Emily’s warning, “You do not want to be friends with me, trust me.”
When Emily asks Stephanie for the “simple favour,” of picking her son up after school, the eager mom agrees. Trouble is, Emily disappears into the great wide open, leaving Stephanie stuck with a child and grieving husband (Henry Golding). As she struggles to find closure and poke around in the corners of Emily’s life she discovers her friend wasn’t quite the person she thought she was. “Secrets are like margarine,” Steph says, “easy to spread but bad for the heart.”
From here the film deep dives into a twisty-turny story of intrigue, misplaced love and insurance scams.
Midway through Stephanie asks, “Are you trying to Diabolique me?” It’s a call back to a 1955 psychological thriller that saw terrible people plan a murder while maintaining a perfect alibi. There are missing bodies and other comparisons to “A Simple Favor” but the similarities end there. Feig gets great performances from Kendrick and Lively but is a bit too leisurely in getting into the meat of the matter.
The opening scenes of the friendship building between the two women sparkle. Kendrick is wide eyed and naïve, with just a hint of the darkness that may lie beneath her perfectly manicured soccer mom exterior. By comparison Lively is an exotic beast, decked out in designer clothes and perfectly tousled main of blonde hair. Her candour puts Stephanie and the audience off balance. She loves her son Nikki, but money woes occupy her mind. Despite living in a rand home with all the amenities she’s on the verge of bankruptcy. “The nicest thing I could do for Nikki,” she says, “is blow my brains out.” Their friendship always seemed unconventional but Emily’s frankness hints at what is to come.
That’s the good stuff. From there “A Simple Favor” becomes a maze of good and bad intentions, fake outs, incest and gaslighting. Motivations shift and the twists pile up as the plot takes a darker tone. Trouble is, it takes too long to get where it is going. The interplay between the characters remains enjoyable but as they become increasingly unreliable narrators the story feels convoluted and stretched.
There’s not much going on story-wise in “The Peanuts Movie.” Like the comic strips that ran in newspapers for fifty years the plot is boiled down to its essence. In this case Charlie Brown is in love with the new girl in town. Add in some hijinks, a moral and faster than you can say, “Good grief, Charlie Brown,” you have an amiable update of the classic cartoon.
In this Paul Feig-produced movie the herky-jerky animation of the cartoons we grew up with is replaced with state of the art computer imagery but all the other familiar elements are comfortably in place. Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy piano score tinkles on the soundtrack, Linus’s blanket still provides security, Lucy’s has attitude and Charlie Brown is still a heaving mass of preadolescent insecurities.
When a new family moves in across the street from Charlie (Noah Schnapp) he is instantly smitten by his new neighbour, the Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi). “Maybe she won’t know about my imperfections,” says Charlie as he tries to figure out ways to impress her. Meanwhile Snoopy (Bill Melendez from original archival audio from the original television shows) has fantasy battles with the Red Baron for the affections of a pretty beagle named Fifi.
While Snoopy engages in aerial loop-de-loops to win Fifi’s love, Charlie Brown does some loopy stuff of his own. “Why is it everything I try turns out wrong?” he sighs. In the end, however, he learns that doing the right thing and showing compassion are more important than showing off for recognition.
For many people happiness will be a new look at Charles M. Schulz’s most famous creations. Feig and Steve “Horton Hears a Who!” Martino have been an extremely respectful to the source material, making a movie that feels like Schulz’s strip with a twenty-first century makeover.
The gentle humour of the TV specials is firmly in place—even a “wild” chase scene at a talent show is slow down to kid-friendly speed—as is the old-school values of the strip—project confidence, don’t slouch—but most importantly the spirit of the Charlie Brown remains intact. Schulz’s stories were always more about heart than actual plot and that is amply on display here but a shortage of story means the film occasionally feels padded out with Red Baron versus Snoopy sequences and music montages to reach the ninety minute mark.
Despite Charlie Brown’s myriad insecurities “The Peanuts Movie” is an extremely confident reworking of Schulz’s beloved creation.
Director Paul Feig calls her “one of the funniest people in the world.” Her husband, actor Ben Falcone, says she “will do anything to get a laugh” but her tendency to go for the easy gag often put me in the mind of Will Ferrell in his Blades of Glory nadir.
Thanks to a string of hits like Bridesmaids, Identity Thief, The Heat and Tammy and an $809,163,263 box office total, McCarthy is a rarity in Hollywood, a female comedy superstar. Everyone agrees she is a skilled comic actor who amplifies the funny in good movies and elevates the jokes in lesser scripts but the latter is why I used to find her exasperating. Much of her recent work—this weekend’s very funny Spy notwithstanding—has relied on her major personality to magnify minor material.
There’s no arguing with the kind of financial success she has enjoyed but critical accolades have been elusive. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, said of Tammy, “The movie’s principal intention is to make you laugh at a loser, and revel in scenes from which polite people would instinctively turn away.”
Bridesmaids was her flashpoint, the film that broke her out of the TV sidekick treadmill. As Megan—imagine a feral, female Guy Fieri—she stole the show out from under other, better known stars like Kristen Wiig and earned an Oscar nomination. It’s a wonderful, weird performance that hinted at great things to come but aside from a few inspired moments she has not made good on the promise of Bridesmaids. Her work has come to rely too heavily on a stock character, the obnoxious loser with a heart of gold buried beneath a thick shell of one-liners and non sequiturs.
“I’ve played a lot of characters who are very vocal, very aggressive,” she told me in 2014. “For the women I’ve played there is a reason why they are so ballsy and it is nice when you see the crack in the veneer and you realize, ‘It’s part of their insecurity. They stay loud so nobody yells at them.’”
It’s an interesting character breakdown but one that played itself out by the end of 2013’s Identity Thief when I believe she became infected with Will Ferrell disease.
There was a time when Will Ferrell could do no wrong. At least that’s what the directors of Blades of Glory, Land of the Lost and Semi-Pro thought. Popular with audiences, he was allowed to run riot in a series of so-so films resulting in the bleak middle period of his career where manic energy replaced humor in his films.
McCarthy suffers from the same affliction. She is funny, she knows how to deliver a line, but in Identity Thief, The Heat and Tammy she’s off the chain, Ferrelling her way through underwritten scripts.
Ferrell turned things around and so has McCarthy. In St. Vincent she took a step away from her well-established comedic persona to deliver laughs and show her dramatic range.
Her latest film, Spy is also welcome return to form. Paired once again with director Feig, the movie offers up the best of both worlds, a funny, smart script and a director who knows how to maximize her talents. As Susan Cooper, a CIA computer-analyst-turned-international-field-agent-on-a-mission-of-revenge, she’s likeable, funny and most importantly, reigned in.